pull up a chair

where wisdom gathers, poetry unfolds and divine light is sparked…

Tag: faith

special edition: a little bit of believing

img_8593

it’s just baseball. i know that. of course i know that.

but i also know — having suffered through the anguish of loss after loss, in the last inning, the last game of season after season, when it all lay on the line, when we almost could wrap our sweaty palm around a win, but then felt the whoosh and the throb to the heart as it all slipped away once again, having spent night after night of late too scared to watch the screen, too nervous to come out from the dark of the laundry room where i paced in anxious loops or rocked in a creaky chair beside the dryer (true confession; last night) — i also know that, for me anyway, it’s all boiled down to a short course in believing.

baseball, played out on planes of grass and mounds of sand, is a game of hope, counted in balls and strikes. it’s faith, measured in innings.

and after too long a while without a notch in the W column you start to ache deep inside your brain. you start to wonder if the synapses, the ones that shoot off sparks of hope from one dangly neuron to another — not unlike telegraph machines of yore, the ones that tapped out urgent word, dispatched it round the world — you start to wonder if maybe the neural dischargers will dry up and wither away, from lack of positive outcome.

in the middle of some indecipherable moment, when pitches are wild and runners are running and the wrong ones are scoring or being tagged out, you start to think you just might pack up all your hope, and put it away.

you start to wonder if you’ll ever have faith in believing again.

because you can’t remember the last time you snared the happy ending.

and you’re watching so many people you love shuffle off to bed with the heaviest soles in the world. and not a few tears.

over the years, i’ve tucked boys into bed with cheeks streaked wet and heavenly pleadings unmet. i’ve watched boys slump off the couch, so stunned by what they saw on the screen (think 2003, game 6, fan-we-won’t-name reaches out for a fly ball, and 3-0 cubs-marlins lead in the national league championship series whirls down the drain). i’ve watched boys pick up the next morning’s paper as if it were poison, or hot-wired to a bomb that might go off at any minute.

but i’ve seen, too, indelible sketches of faith tucked under a ballcap:

on cold spring nights, with temps hovering in the low 40s at best, i’ve had friends haul sleeping bags to the sidewalk outside wrigley field, keeping vigil all night so they could be among the first in line for season tickets — year after losing year. and we’ve a very dear friend who drove in from upstate new york, overnight, over the weekend, to plop his bum in the season-ticket seat at wrigley he’s held since god-only-knows-when. because he’d never before known a world series game, and he wasn’t about to let a thousand miles get in the way.

the diehards, they never gave up. maybe it was only wimps like me who found ourselves wobbling, who thought our knees might give out, the up-and-down of it all, the cardiac teeter-totter of dizzying hope giving way to crushing what-was-i-thinking.

in moments like those, the best you can do — the best i can do anyway — is what my little guy long ago referred to as “soothe talk,” as i tell myself over and over, it’s just baseball. we’ll all get up in the morning, lace up our shoes, run out of milk once again.

but then, before that thought’s half-baked, you back it up with another one begging the baseball gods for a break.

you tick through the laundry list of heartbreak that’s piled up over the years, and you start to think you might just be on the losing side of this proposition — and not just in baseball. you start to think you might teeter permanently into the camp of those too shattered to ever again believe.

but you can’t imagine how that could be. and you know life’s too sweet to let that be the take-home prize.

and all the while you’re wanting it for everyone you can possibly think of: the 92-year-old blind guy in iowa you read about; the gravestones now decked out in cubs caps, and fly-the-W flags; your very own brothers, schooled in transistor-radio baseball, now grown and scattered but still believers in ernie banks & co.; your own two boys — the ones hauled to wrigley cathedral not long after birth because it was a baptism their father believed in.

i especially wanted it for anyone — and i know deep inside there was someone — lying in a hospital bed somewhere in cubs land, someone i imagined might be waiting to die, refusing to die, till the last out was called, just in case this was the year.

even though at the time of that thought, it wasn’t looking so hopeful.

and then, after a drought of 108 years, the heavens opened, and down came a rain. enough of a rain to cover the field in a blank white prayer shawl.

prayers — everywhere — were whispered, the volume cranked louder and louder.

it wouldn’t be long — not too long, given the very long century-plus leading up to the tenth inning of game 7 of the world series of 2016 — and then, at last, it came, the whoop that found its way to the dark behind the furnace, where by then i was rocking in that old creaky chair (the very image of madame defarge, i imagine).

a young boy called my name, beckoned me to the scene in front of the screen. he couldn’t contain his unbridled joy, my born-again believer. nor could his papa. nor his faithful big brother, connected by text and by heart, across the not-so-many miles.

i breathed once again. i inhaled the heavenly vapors of the happily-ever-after ending. i tucked it away in my heart’s deep-down pocket. whispered, only loud enough for my own self to hear: sometimes, it doesn’t hurt to believe.

faith, newly polished and gleaming again, is what i took home from the end of the drought.

i’ll pull it out whenever it matters. because sometimes the lessons of baseball can’t be contained in dugouts and bleachers.

* i must end with an asterisk, as only a wimp would do, in deepest apologies to the fine and glorious folk of cleveland, ohio, who this morning are wearing the sting of the heart i know so well. i was soothing myself — when it looked like a loss might be in store for our end of the equation — by looking up the stories of various players and reminding myself how each and every one prayed for — and deserved — the happiest ending. baseball doesn’t end in a tie, i am told. which proves that i did not make the rules. so to everyone saddened by this stunning development, my deepest sympathies. there is, of course, always next year.

and in the meantime, i’m shipping this ahead of the usual friday-morning deadline because i’ll be teaching flocks of young students tomorrow (the ones who skip the cubs’ victory parade, anyway). and because, well, this is all very hot off the press, this notion of world series champion cubs. and why not leap into the heat of the moment?

before i go, do tell, what are the lessons you’ve learned about hope, and the blessing of believing? how did life teach those particular truths?

because the chair is always, always about story and heart-filled word, i’m going to gather here a compendium of some of the best writing i’m finding, recapping the game and what this all means: 

here, from my dear dear friend, paul sullivan, known and loved by all of us as “paulie,” the chicago tribune’s great cubs writer. 

and my brother bri found this beauty from espn’s wright thompson, about mourning those who didn’t live to see it.

and i’m waiting for roger angell, the great great writer and chronicler of baseball and this world series in particular, to post his latest at the new yorker. stay tuned for that keeper. in the meantime, he’s a great one on the two magnificent drought-ending managers — joe maddon and terry francona — from the new yorker’s ian crouch

seed scatterer

somehow, the other night, i swallowed wholly one of the truest truths of growing a thinking child from scratch.

mighta been one of the hardest ones to swallow, too.

but in the end, i am convinced, i’m one inch closer to a place that’s wiser. even if the getting there was bumpy going down.

you see, somewhere deep inside my head i think i thought that passing on the flames you hold most deeply, dearly, was a matter simply of holding up the wick, turning to the ones we nurse, we diaper change, we spoon feed, we wipe off, bandage, and shuffle on their way. the ones whose ears we whisper into, the ones whose shoes we tie, the ones whose pencil grip we help to rearrange. the ones whose papers we are no longer asked to read, for they are thinking now wholly on their own.

to pass the flame, i thought, was merely this: we turn and touch our kindled wick to theirs. and, poof, the burning light continues.

only, the other night, deep in thought and conversation at the kitchen table, deep in one of those tete-a-tetes that starts out slow, builds, spirals and suddenly is way up high on some perch where air is thin, and grip is slipping, i realized that not all flames are so easily lit from soul to soul.

not when you have, all your life, raised your child to think, to ask, to sift through what he’s told, to make his own only what sinks deep down to a place where what fits is weighed, is looked at from all sides, is held up to the shadow-casting light.

the subject, more or less, was religion. and in this house that’s a subject that comes with many threads. we weave here. we are braiders. we sift for golden strands, we entwine. we understand that some are shared, and some are wholly different, depending on whose birth threads we are holding.

more than religious, though, i am of the spirit. i find God in the scarlet flash of papa cardinal in the snowy boughs. i feel the shiver of the holy spirit when i watch the moon shadow play upon the window panes, and spill onto the bedclothes that bundle up and over my baby boy.

i whisper the hail mary, but i brush away a tear when lost in prayer on yom kippur. i feel the breath divine in hebrew, latin, or plain-old sidewalk talk. i needn’t be in church to know that holiness is near.

and so, it was the burning flame of spirit that i assumed–no, i counted on–i’d pass to my firstborn.

as clearly as he got my curly hair, the dimple of his father’s cheek, i thought the one most precious breath i have, i’d turn and breathe easily, wholly, into my soulful child.

oh, he had it when he was little. looked up at me one night, when he was all of two, and asked, “who puts God to bed at night?”

he had it, just a year ago, when he stood on the bimah, proclaiming the words of the Torah at his bar mitzvah, brought down the house, i tell you, with his grown-up understanding that nearly made the rabbi’s pale.

but now, now he’s taken history for thinking children, he’s heard word of wars fought in the name of God. and philosophies that stretch his mind into interesting new shapes. he is, right now, in this interlude, not so certain anymore.

and as we talked, i ached as the words he spoke fell upon my ears, sifted down to where my soul does all its breathing.

i tell you, it hurt to swallow, and, yes, to breathe.

but he is mine, and that’s unshakable, and, besides, i believe i’ve glimpsed the outlines of that soul. even if, right now, he calls it something else.

late that night, tossing, turning, in the way a mother sometimes does, it came to me, the image of the seeds.

i realized that what we do, in the long, long years of planting, is we are merely sowers of the seed. we scatter all life long, the bits of truth, of hope, the few scant things we know.

we scatter as we turn the words, in conversation after conversation. we poke a fertile nugget deep into the soil as we take our children by the hand, show them places and faces unlike the ones they would otherwise know.

we sprinkle seed through the books we read them when we pull them on our lap, turn pages. and then, years later, leave tucked beneath their pillow, just in case they find a minute for inhaling thought before they fall to sleep.

and after all the sowing, i realized, we can only stand back. pray for rain and sunlight. keep watch on what’s out where we have laid our lifetime’s crops.

hmm, is that a little bit of green, poking through the loamy soil? is that a tendril, reaching for the sky?

we’ll not know the harvest for some time. but we will trust that all the planting, tending, praying, was not in vain.

some seasons, what comes up is rich, is plenty, fills the bins. some seasons, what you put into the ground, isn’t what comes up at all.

but there will be a reaping. and, God willing, it will be more than you had ever counted on.

that’s the way it is when it comes to growing a thinking child. we’ve no flame to simply light their way, only seeds to scatter on their path, and wait–and hope–for blossoming to come.

what hard lessons has parenting brought your way? what, in life, did you set out thinking would be a cinch, only to find it was not the way you’d naively imagined? how have you made peace when the lessons you hoped to teach didn’t sprout in quite the way you’d planted? for those of you who’ve forged this trail already what were moments when you knew, oh you knew, that raising a thinking child held glories all its own. even when their wisdom caught you by surprise?

and by the by, today’s the blessed day of our resident mountain bird, the one who sings as if a warble-throated mama bird. here’s to sweetness, pure light and heart-melting goodness. in song, in deed. happy blessed day, pjv-az.